Get to Know Tiasia Saunders, Content Creator and Research Assistant with Nutrition On Demand  

To say Tiasia Saunders has an interest in public health and community outreach is an understatement. Take, for instance, her extensive list of volunteer experiences. She’s spent years cooking, serving, sorting, and packaging nutritious food donations at food banks, soup kitchens, nonprofit farms, and food pantries throughout Tennessee and Kansas. Saunders calls it “giving back” after benefiting from this support as a child. It seems this reciprocation also led to a life-altering decision to professionally enter the public health arena, where she’s conducted research promoting a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable health care system.  

Saunders is on the cusp of receiving a master’s degree in Public Health (MPH) with an emphasis on public health nutrition from Kansas State University (KSU). And she’s not stopping there, as she’s currently enrolled in courses to become a registered dietitian nutritionist.  She’s already taken on roles that seem to prime her for a noteworthy career post-graduation. In our conversation with Saunders, she discusses the biggest challenges in the nutrition field and what led her to Nutrition On Demand.  

Was there a specific catalyst that got you interested in public health and nutrition?  

My family and I experienced food insecurity. My siblings and I grew up in a single-parent household. My mom worked very hard, but sometimes we still didn’t have enough food. With food insecurity, there are ups and downs. At times we had plenty of food and at times we didn’t. One of the things I started doing was to give back to those that supplied us with food when I was younger by volunteering my time at local food banks and nonprofit organizations. I wasn’t aware of dietetics or nutrition as a career until I enrolled in my master’s program. I had never met a dietitian and didn’t know that [nutrition] could be a career option.  

What was it about public health that also struck a chord with you?  

During my undergrad studies, I was assigned to a public health practicum and worked at a food bank in Clarksville, Tennessee. Through this organization, I packed food, served meals, prepared meals, and also created educational materials. I just loved that type of work. I loved interacting with the community. That is where I formed my love for community service. I still volunteer often.  

What other areas of public health interest you?  

Research is something I definitely gravitate towards. It’s one of my skillsets. Personally, I love doing research. Maybe it’s because I love learning. I was also a graduate research assistant and I got a lot of experience with it for about a year. I personally believe research is the foundation for change. Without it, you can’t inform on things that should happen. 

At Nutrition On Demand, I’m supporting the research of our various clients, including the McCormick Science Institute (MSI) [an organization that supports scientific research and disseminates information on the health benefits of culinary herbs and spices]. I conduct abstract reviews for publications on randomized controlled trials, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses to select those focused on health outcomes, human research, and culinary herbs and spices. Then I compile the selected abstracts into a newsletter that is shared with the MSI Scientific Advisory Council.  

What other projects at Nutrition On Demand have intrigued you? 

I’ve been taking part in creating content and analyzing social media metrics for Cooking Matters [an organization that helps parents and caregivers develop their skills when shopping for and cooking healthy foods on a budget]. Nutrition On Demand allows me to bring my skills to the table. I love being creative, conducting research, and assessing analytics. I like an interdisciplinary approach; when I’m able to work on various tasks, that’s how I best operate. I love the dynamic environment and variety.  

How did you initially get involved with Nutrition On Demand? 

Through my dietetics community at KSU, I was introduced to a role as a nutrition communications intern for a nutrition communications consultancy. Through this experience, I knew I wanted to continue in this space and that’s why I got connected to Nutrition On Demand. After one conversation with the team, I knew that it would be a perfect fit for me. 

Your master’s thesis is on evaluating health care providers and administrators for LGBTQ+ inclusive care and affirmative practices. What led to this idea?  

The idea came from collaborating with the Wichita LGBTQ+ Health Coalition. My thesis focuses on evaluating health care administrators and practitioners on how inclusive their practices are and what they can do to make them more inclusive. I conducted a literature review, engaged in conversations with community members, and created a survey for this population. I am now in the analysis phase of my research.  

You also pride yourself on promoting diversity and equity within the nutrition field.  

The biggest thing I’ve seen is a lack of diversity in the field, and a lack of awareness. Like I said, I wasn’t even aware of the field until I got into college. Once I did, I was very shocked to learn that within the profession, a small percentage of dietitians identify as Black. This is a concern because certain health complications such as diabetes disproportionately affect people of certain racial or ethnic backgrounds. We have to meet the needs of our diverse nation of different races and ethnicities in order to improve the nutrition of communities across the nation. It’s important that our field includes professionals with different backgrounds and insights to provide culturally inclusive care and content.  

I plan to continue to serve as a mentor to students as I have through my graduate teaching position. I aspire to be a leader in this space for people who look like me because representation matters and makes all the difference in the trajectory of one’s influence on the public. 

What’s one fun fact about yourself?  

I love traveling. I’m going to Guatemala this summer for six weeks for an International Service Learning Experience [which supports cultural awareness, service-based learning, and sustainable development via volunteer travel programs] via an education abroad opportunity through my university. I’ll be working on nutrition research and working within the community. I will be tending community gardens, teaching cooking classes, conducting community health assessments, and teaching nutrition lessons. 

Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Fred Durso, Jr. 

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